Former Vice President Joe Biden's choice of Sen. Kamala Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, as his running mate made history. She is the first woman of color named to a national ticket for a major party. But it is just the latest honor in a list of firsts for the Democratic senator from the West Coast, who is also the country's first South Asian American senator and both California's first female and first Black attorney general.
Still, her selection as Biden's potential vice president breaks barriers and sends a signal to young people of color in America that opportunities are slowly opening, despite the unrest on our streets and division in our communities. It represents an acknowledgment by Biden of the rising clout of women of color, along with the importance of issues such as urban poverty and discriminatory policing that reinforced Sen. Harris' decision to locate her campaign headquarters in Baltimore last year, for what was ultimately an unsuccessful presidential bid.
And wouldn't it be great to see a national rejection of white supremacy, of racial animus, of fearmongering and moral bankruptcy, where the sitting president can unashamedly show more concern for an accused sex offender than for the passing of a renowned civil rights leaders whose funeral he could not bother to attend? Oh, to have all that wiped away by a ticket that included Kamala "That little girl was me" Harris, who was once a young girl on a bus desegregating California public schools.
Harris was long a favored pick for the vice-presidential post by top Democrats, who saw her as the candidate most tested at the national stage, having not only been a presidential candidate herself but serving as a first-term U.S. senator from the nation's most populous state and as a high-profile prosecutor and state attorney general. Silicon Valley, Wall Street and environmental activists likewise cheered her choice.
Does she send the Democratic Party's left wing hearts aflutter? Probably not. Does she make a difference on the Electoral College map? If California wasn't already in Biden's camp, it's panic time. She does, however, bring an answer to the obvious question facing all vice presidential picks: Can she handle the top job if something were to happen to the president? That's where her experience, steadiness and intelligence really pays off. She's reliable and 22 years younger than her running mate. That counts for something, too.
Some have labeled Sen. Harris' selection a "safe" pick -- as if the United States commonly elected women to top political office. One might ask Hillary Clinton about that. Or Margaret Chase Smith. Or Shirley Chisholm. Or Jill Stein. Or any of the other women who have tried and failed to be elected president since Victoria Woodhull first threw her hat in the ring in 1872. And just because Barack Obama was elected twice doesn't mean the nation has exactly gotten beyond its racial strife either. It doesn't take more than a cursory reading of Donald Trump's Twitter feed to observe that triggering white male anxiety (whether it involves George Floyd protests or the presence of millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.) remains the president's modus operandi.
Indeed, President Trump and his minions are already scrambling to tag Sen. Harris with the most demeaning of labels. Trump called her "nasty," relying on one of his favorite insults against women, Fox News host Sean Hannity called her record one of a "radical extremist," and Fox opinion host Jeanine Pirro questioned whether Sen. Harris was even Biden's pick. It's certain that she will face an onslaught of racist, sexist dog-whistling to come. And we expect she will handle it with the same grace under pressure she showed during her own presidential bid.
"I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead," Biden wrote to supporters on Tuesday. He appears to have found such a person. It is an important, perhaps even seismic choice given the current state or race relations in this country. If nothing else, one more barrier has been torn down. And no matter one's political leanings, that ought to be seen as a good thing.
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